The Southern Highway

Time has come to present you the first book of Julio Cortazar. Called The southern highway, it presents the story of a traffic jam on the highway between Fontainebleau and Paris.

The traffic jam lasts a few days, which causes people to adapt some way or another. People from various social classes, different environments are put together and are obligated to cohabit. They are forced to help each other and share various supplies that they have, what they maybe wouldn’t do normally. When they run out they start leaving their cars in searching of supplies, they start to save food and water and to prioritize it for people in need.

Various feelings are emerging. Fear, love, anger, desperation, hate, and they are mixing each other in a place which is like a volcano ready to explode. Some people cease, some people loose the fight. Meaning that there are some who abandon their cars for continuing their road walking, a guy commits suicide and an old woman dies. Strong character is proven here and only the most powerful will survive. Their only chance to survive is to collaborate.

The novel is short, but in seventeen pages comprises so much truth that it is almost frightening. You can see how a human being can react in different limit situations. It is more like a psychological novel in my opinion. You can see different personalities, different reactions, different ways of seeing life. Some try to collaborate and to share their supplies, some try to drink water and eat while hiding. There is not much of an action or intrigue, nor there are many dialogues between characters. Maybe just “I am hungry”, “They said there was an accident” or something like this. One may say that it is boring and it lacks action, that the ending is predictable. But the intrigue is not in the action but in the characters. Just like in Antic Hay by Aldous Huxley. You don’t enjoy the plot but the animosity, the psychology, the connections between people. Although they seem to be friends while in the jam, after they leave they come back to their routines, waiting for a shower, food, water, forgetting all the friendships they have made. We realize that we are not more not less then small characters that only care about themselves and who are ready to take the food of the other for our wealth.

I mentioned above that the action stands over a few days. Well it depends. Some say that it happens over various months. In the book you cannot tell exactly. They only mention that they find useless to watch the clock as the time has dilated. I tend to believe the second option, that they spent various months there, as there are arguments to sustain this theory. When they get there they can barely stand the heat, but as time passes cold starts to come out, and they need thicker clothes. Also, at the end of the novel, the author mentions that the engineer from the 404 and the girl from the Dauphine were having a baby. And you can’t make a baby from one day to another. Whatever the truth, the novel remains as it is, a literary masterpiece.

The novel also had a big impact into the world. During the decade of the 90s, the brand of automobiles Renault made three advertisements inspired by The southern highway, although only one saw the lights.

It is said to have inspired the French film Week End, filmed in 1967 and directed by Jean-Luc Godard.

Also the video of Morat band (originated in Columbia), called Como te atreves, is inspired from the book. So I guess if it had such an impact, it really meant something. You just have to watch beyond the surface. Or maybe it is just a matter of taste.

Being my second book in Spanish, after Three meters above the sky I cannot say less than love it. But I am also Spanish addicted so maybe I am just subjective. So I will leave you decide weather it is worth reading it or not.

© picnicontheshelf, August 21, 2018

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